While the Australian ePassport book has become a standard product offering that has proven to be transformational to the Australian Government’s travel document program, the birth of the ePassport was an intense, time-critical period in NPA’s history.
This period commenced in June 2002 when the United States decided to lift security levels for entry to the country as mandated through the Visa Reform Act 2002. In short, for its partner countries to remain a part of the US Visa Waiver program they were now required to incorporate ‘biometric identifiers’ into their passports by October 2004 (later extended to October 2005).
2002 was a significant year for NPA. Not only had the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) chosen NPA to take full control of the passport manufacturing process in August, but the Visa Reform Act meant NPA was immediately required to come up with a biometric solution for a new series of Australian passport. The Government saw it as politically vital that Australian citizens remain in the visa waiver program.
The technical challenge of understanding how to best embed a microchip with antenna into a passport was new territory for established passport manufacturers worldwide, let alone NPA which was still in the early stages of ramping up its full passport manufacturing capability.
Necessity became the mother of invention. In close cooperation with the Australia Passports Office, it was decided to embed the chip technology in the centre page of the document, a decision which turned out to be unique in the world of passports.
It was felt at the time that the integrated circuit (IC) would be better protected from the strains of bending and impacts, as well as environmental stresses, in the centre of the book. This wasn’t a reflection on the merit of alternative solutions, simply a rationale that was accepted and acted upon.
“In the early days there were a number of possible solutions, all of which were as valid as any other. Many countries decided to go for an eCover in which the IC inlay is sandwiched between the cover and end-leafs of the book,” says Mike Griggs, Technical Services Manager - Passports.
“The solution for the Australian book embedded the chip in a double-layered centre page which necessitated the design and fabrication of a prototype machine from Kugler-Womako. The solution has served us and the Australian government and population well, and we’ve continued to refine and optimise the performance of this approach,” he says.
These performance improvements include offsetting the page opening that houses the IC inlay as well as commissioning a completely redesigned machine that addressed many of the operational shortcomings in the original prototype. Such work created a considerable stable of proprietary knowledge, which while unique to NPA and Australia, has resonated well with the broader industry.
Not only occupied with operational aspects, NPA applies its continuous improvement approach to ensuring that the travel documents it creates will continue to serve the bearer throughout the ownership lifecycle. Early adopters of the Durability Test Methods for Travel Documents and first published in 2006 as an ICAO Technical Report (and subsequently enshrined in ISO 18745-1:2014), NPA’s quality laboratory is equipped with a comprehensive range of apparatus designed to test the performance of the books beyond ‘reasonable use’.
“The Australian Passport Office has been issuing travel documents with the IC inlay embedded in the centre page for nearly 13 years now. Those first books have run their lifecycle and they’ve enabled people to go about their business or experience new places without too much thought about what they’re holding in their hand.... there’s trust that the document works,” says Mike.
“The fact that the centre page solution is now in its 3rd Series of Australian Travel Document is a testament to the hard work and careful thought of individuals and organisations in creating something that has proven to stand the test of time.”
For enquiries into NPA’s ePassport product, contact:
Head of Commercial Services